Emma goes to some of the best bars and restaurants in London to try and sell our gin. In this episode, she tells us about what it was like and what she has learnt.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode Of The Lazy Entrepreneur Podcast:
- Pipehouse Gin Website
- Starting a Gin Brand Episode 1: Doing The Research
- Starting a Gin Brand Episode 2: Creating The Recipe & Branding
- Starting A Gin Brand Episode 3: Delays & Legal Schmeagols
- Starting A Gin Brand Episode 4: Labels, Packaging & Marketing
- Starting A Gin Brand Episode 5: We Have Finally Launched Pipehouse Gin!
01:18 – Emma’s approach to making sales
04:30 – Places that could buy directly from Pipehouse Gin
06:30 – Selling in Kent compared to London
10:12 – Sam’s interpretation of Emma’s approach to selling gin
11:20 – Emma’s free bar crawl
12:40 – Pipehouse Gin’s involvement with a Michelin star restaurant
14:28 – The benefits of going out in person rather than hiding behind emails
16:07 – When ignorance works in your favor
19:47 – Emma on being recognized by fans
SAM: Hello and welcome back to another episode of the lazy entrepreneur, I’m your host Sam Priestley and as normal we’re joined by my lovely co-host Emma Priestley.
SAM: Today I actually wanted to interview you so instead of just having to listen to me drone on while you try and keep me on track, we’re now going to have a bit of a role reversal, reason why I would have thought this would be a good episode is because you’ve been doing quite a lot of what is effectively door-to-door selling. You’ve been going from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant which kind of culminated in this day on Tuesday you had two days ago. We went around to some of the best bars and restaurants in London, trying to sell our new gin. So short backstory is that we own a gin brand together called Pipehouse Gin and coming out next week on the 30th of March, we’ve got a new flavor coming out. We’ve got pink grapefruit and thyme gin and so you’ve been going around to some of the best restaurants in London, the best bars trying to tell them about our gin and trying to sell to them which sounds pretty terrifying to me but you’ve been loving it and it’s also worked in well with your sort of bigger greater plans, so yeah let’s talk about that. It was a bit of a gamble really, you didn’t really warm up or prep them, you just went in and asked for the bar manager.
EMMA: I didn’t even do that.
SAM: So what did you do?
EMMA: First of all I created a list of places I thought I should go to and that list started with brands that I thought had a really English kind of focus so we’re a very English brand, we’re based in Kent, our flavorings are quite English so I thought it would work quite well and then I also asked people within the industry so we know someone that’s got a beer brand for example. For recommendations of places that probably could buy from us direct rather than buy from big distributors. I literally walked up to these places, got a seat at the bar, I asked for the menu and ordered a cocktail. And I sat there and chatted with the bar team and introduced our gin very like softly and then I gave them a sample of our gin which I had in my bag and started the conversation as a customer and then ended it as a potential supplier.
SAM: Oh how did it go?
EMMA: Really well. I was quite nervous for the first one actually planned to go to a restaurant that was on the way to somewhere I had lunch booking and I got too scared to go through that one on the way to the lunch so I in my head I thought I’m going to have lunch first and then I’m going to do it, so that’s how scared I was. Which is funny because I’ve been in probably hundreds of bars and restaurants now within Kent to introduce our gin so is it’s not something that haven’t got experience in but it’s still quite intimidating. I’m a big foodie so some of the places I went to, I really respect and think they’re really good so part of me thought, “Who am I going into one of my favorite restaurants asking them to stock our gin” but at the same time that made it really exciting because the opportunity there was one of my favorite restaurants could stock our gin, so the first one I went into yeah as I said, sat at the bar. It was very quiet. I went so it’s Tuesday afternoon after lunch which is a really good time to go in so after two p.m. before the dinner service so it’s quite quiet which meant I was the only one sat at the bar and the bar team didn’t have loads of drinks orders to do so it meant that they could make my cocktail and they could chat to me which was perfect so I found out how this first restaurant could purchase alcohol. They use six different distributors. None of them I’d heard of so I could make a note of all of those and then the bar staff tried our gin and gave me feedback, which was great and then they also gave me loads of tips of other bars in the area that they thought would be a good fit for the flavor of our gin as well as the brand.
SAM: Awesome, so you mentioned before and we talked on previous podcast that you’re looking for places you thought could buy from us directly. What do you mean by that?
EMMA: So typically bars and restaurants in the UK have big contracts with companies well with distributors basically it means that every week they’ll get a delivery of all of their drinks from one company and that will be soft drink spirits beer everything so it makes it very simple for the bar staff to order and it’s very simple to receive that delivery and then restock versus some bars and restaurants buy directly from drinks retailers. So a craft beer or a specific local soft drink so for us as a small gin company, we look for bars and restaurants that can buy from us directly.
SAM: So there’s two things there on there. One is they’ll have contracts with certain places which when he said they’re not actually allowed to buy from anyone else and they will have got a deal well if you can give them some money or some of the bar fixtures and fittings whatever have been paid for by that distributor and then the other one is a convenience thing if they don’t want to have hundreds of different suppliers that they order for every week. They want to just order in one or two places, and if you’ve been following our Pipehouse Gin journey then you’ll know that this distribution issue is one that we’ve had quite a lot of trouble with. This was really our first time sort of changing tactics slightly and one of the ideas was that a lot of these high-end restaurants, which really care about the provenance and having craft ingredients and craft drinks are also going to be more likely to want to take that extra bit of effort and order from us directly.
SAM: Was that kind of what you you got the impression? Because how did it really compare then going around London to all these top restaurants that you were quite scared to go to and you knew Bob Lee and by name type thing for following on Instagram or whatever versus going around in Kent.
EMMA: So it was very different culturally so walking into bars in London the bar staff was just so welcoming and this level of service is amazing so I’ve got a lot of one-on-one conversations. They kind of dedicate time to you and they see there’s a value in them learning about new products whereas going into places around Kent, it’s all about the fact that we’re a local gin.
SAM: So for them really what they care more about was our USP, the whole flavor without the sweetness, London Dry but no added sugar.
EMMA: Yeah and I had a few conversations with bar staff, specifically around that so they’re all very much purist cocktail lovers. Like they love like a martini or a negroni where it’s pretty much all alcohol, pretty much no mixers. They’re the classic cocktails so they really hate the flavored gin market because predominantly most flavor gins are very sweet and they’re a bit more like a liqueur rather than gin but they’re really popular. A lot of their customers ask for pink gin, they don’t even ask for the brand so as bar staff, they really liked the concept of our business and the USB and they all said to me, I haven’t seen this idea of a flavored gin without the sweetness anywhere else. But we can see where it really fits into the market. That was really nice to get that validation.
SAM: That’s something we haven’t really got here have we.
EMMA: Definitely not because it’s just not the same level and I think the customers in London have very different expectations of their cocktail bars and their restaurants compared to the customers in Kent and I think that’s okay and again that kind of feeds in why I was so nervous because I knew it was gonna be a step.
SAM: Well then you couldn’t fall back on like oh we’re based just around the corner.
EMMA: Exactly which is what I’ve talked a lot about like around in Ken and it works really well around Kent.
SAM: I suppose you start to worry that that is the only reason they’re buying from you, that they’re are not buying into the concept.
EMMA: Yeah I’ll tell you something really funny. One of the bar staff, actually the first place I went to said he hates pink gin so much that one time a customer asked for pink gin which they do not stock in this restaurant and he gave them a London Dry Gin with tonic and he put some bitters in it, a particular type of bitters that changes the color to pink and of course the taste because if you know anything about cocktails and bitters, it’s obviously it’s bitter or sour or it’s quite strong. There’s no sugar in bitters. It’s a bit like the equivalent of putting like Worcestershire sauce in your spaghetti, it’s that kind of zinger flavor so that the bar staff were like they’re very purist basically. But also willing to play around and there were a few anecdotes like that from other places where the bar team got really frustrated with customers asking for specific gins and thinking they knew a lot about the gin market and the flavor of gins and in reality they didn’t know anything. Things like that was quite interesting to get those anecdotes and a little insight into the gin market from professionals in London. So that was really interesting for me.
SAM: One of the other reasons I was most excited about you doing this trip was, for a lot of people this sounds like their idea of a terrible day. Going in cold to random bars trying to strike up conversations and somehow subtly bring in
EMMA: The sales element.
SAM: But you know we talked other podcasts about this before. Your sort of long-term goal is not just around the gin but is around sort of food and drink. And all the restaurants you into are ones that you really like and that you would love to actually work with and get to know them a bit better. And they’re places you go to in your free time anyway, and so here you’ve had an excuse, you’ve also had an excuse to talk to the people and they’ll they recognize you now they know you know you and you can follow each other on Instagram and so it builds your personal brand and helps you get little ins into these places which otherwise might not be able to as well as getting our gin into some pretty awesome spots.
EMMA: Yeah which is great for our brand.
SAM: Yeah that’s the thing we didn’t really mention. The reason we’re going to so much effort is because we want our brand linked with these very well-known places, even though it’s not really worth the money, you know you’re going in, you’re buying a cocktail and that cocktails probably going to be more than our margin on the bottle of gin that we sell to them.
EMMA: Well I kept thinking about that and of course everything I drank was free.
SAM: Well that’s even better.
EMMA: Yeah I tried to pay for each cocktail I had at the bar and every time the bar staff said there is no bill. It was fantastic.
SAM: Basically got a free bar crawl around all the best restaurants and bars in London.
EMMA: It was absolutely amazing. I loved it, it was such a good time.
SAM: And you had a great day didn’t you?
EMMA: I did.
SAM: I think it’s really cool it would be interesting to see what comes of it. Would any of these relationships continue? Because around here is that we didn’t really know any of the business side of restaurants and bars and stuff even though we were eating and drinking there a lot but as soon as you start introducing yourself and talking and now you got a reason to and tell them about the gin and once they start stalking us they’ve got a bit of a buy in there. Suddenly we’re friends with so many of these awesome people we never would have otherwise met.
EMMA: Yeah and there’s a whole different side to the industry. We can be involved in creating menus and talking about new products and events that these bars and restaurants do locally like we love all that side and we would never even have those conversations with the restaurant and bar owners if again we hadn’t introduced ourselves as gin owners.
SAM: Yeah because the reason we’re doing this is because we want to and they’re fun. What’s more fun than making gin? Like tomorrow we got a very serious meeting where we’re going to a michelin star restaurant who’s been designing a new cocktail you seen our gin so try it out, how cool is that?
EMMA: It’s amazing.
SAM: And you’ve done a few days where you go around with a few of the distributors who you work with and their sales reps and it’s just like a piss-up, you just do a bar crawl around all these places, they’re all very soft salesy where they go in, order a few drinks.
EMMA: Sit at the bar, have a chat.
SAM: They’re all expenses so you’ll get all them for free and then just get to know them all. That’s pretty cool and it’s completely different because the other reason I want to talk about this is if you watch something like The Apprentice, you get some impression that you can just walk into anywhere, sell them some tap and they’ll buy it. And when you watch it, you’re like there’s no way you could walk into a shop like that, actually buy something off the street. It’s not quite that simple and it does take a little bit more relationship building but that’s exactly what you’ve been doing. You’ve been going in, turn them about that, giving them a sample or two. Following up a week later, going back in another time and your hit rate of places you go into and actually end up stalking us is really good.
EMMA: Yeah definitely, it’s all about building a relationship and then that’s the thing, like the way I could have played in London is I could have done loads of online research of who the restaurant managers and the bar managers are. I could have emailed them and called them to get a meeting and then I could have used that day on Tuesday to meet with them back to back and I did actually see some people doing that. So one of the last restaurant stroke hotel, stroke bars I was in, there was actually a beer tasting going on next to me so it was a very it’s quite a big bar so I could kind of see what was going on, kind of opposite me. And this guy, the sales guy had kind of five or six different beers, different glasses and he was given this spiel and it was quite interesting for me to hear what he was saying but also how he was coming across, how he displayed his products and he had a meeting with some different staff members who I didn’t interact with but what I was doing was I sat at the bar ordering a drink and I was talking with the bar manager so I got the attention of the most important person, and the person that had booked this beer meeting was talking to someone else who probably isn’t necessarily working behind the bar, isn’t really involved in the day-to-day stuff. Maybe he was like an Operations Manager, but so it was quite interesting that I was trying to approach it a bit differently.
SAM: Well especially when the person who’s going to be recommending what gin the customer buys is the guy at the bar.
SAM: Especially when they have like 20 different gins, all of which are premium, so sort of which will be in a similar price range to us.
EMMA: You want them to recommend you. It made me think like you know you talked a lot about in business that sometimes it’s not always about you doing loads of research and you’re doing it the right way, the way that everyone else does it but being a bit naive, not knowing too much about the protocol in the industry. Just turning up at the bar and getting a really good chat with the bar manager is actually really good.
SAM: Definitely because the right way is what everyone else is doing it and there are so many sales reps whose job it is just to go around and try and get in with places and they’re all doing the same thing. It seemed coming along and doing a bit differently, the other thing I remember is when you started it took awhile for you to realize actually telling them that you are the owner of the business because they just assumed you were sales rep so while they were nice and friendly is that’s a very different to tell them actually this is my business and my brand.
EMMA: Yeah definitely and it’s funny because it took me quite a while to realize that I didn’t think it needed to be said, but I kept getting these comments, like oh what pay structure are you working tomorrow? And things like that and I was like why they are asking me those questions and then it hit me, they don’t assume that I’m the owner, they assume I’m a paid sales rep.
SAM: Yeah that was probably because they hardly ever had the actual owner coming in. I was like is it an age thing, is it a gender thing but I was like no they just never have the owners take the time themselves to come in and talk about it.
EMMA: Yeah and it’s a bit like, I mean I’m a big fan of going to like food markets and food festivals where you go to different stands and you talk to the business owner that’s created this street food or this new drink and it’s just such a nice experience to go to lots of stands and hear from the business owner how passionate they are about the product and that’s always stuck with me that’s something that I would love to recreate one day and I feel that I am really doing that with the gin.
SAM: Also you’ve got your ear to the ground so you will recognize the owner and most of the market so you’re actually making the food itself so you get really really excited.
EMMA: And it’s quite funny because that’s happened to me quite a lot at taste of London events where there will be the format of taste of London is that they have lots of restaurants that would do pop-up restaurants. Basically you can order a few small dishes and it’s Street food and it’s a way of trying their food particularly if they’re Michelin star at a very cheap price but what’s funny is the people that are serving aren’t obviously the head chef but I know what exactly as you said I know what the head chef looks like and it’s been a few times where I’ve actually just gone up to the head chef who’s standing by the stand and be like, “Ah, it’s so nice to meet you!” and like have a proper chat and everyone’s looking at me like does she know something we don’t? Yeah I found that very funny.
SAM: Yeah I remember we went to a foodie event around here a few months ago and the people we were with who were similar to you can be like, oh that’s that person and I have no idea who they’re talking about.
EMMA: Well yeah obviously because Sam has no facial recognition so he wouldn’t know anyone.
SAM: And all these famous chefs who weren’t actually doing the cooking, they’re kind of overseeing things. They weren’t doing the cooking but they were just wandering around I wonder if they’ll ever be people we actually met, we’ve had a couple of times when we do market stalls and people will recognize us and come up and chat to us because they’ve seen us on social media or they followed a blog or something like that.
EMMA: Well I’m starting to get it more and more like the last time I had it, I was in a bar in Tunbridge Wells and I was talking I was about having a meeting with someone over a cocktail about the gin and someone came up to me and said, well yeah they were like basically fangirling me. Like interrupting that conversation to just be like, I’m so happy to meet you and I was like this is really weird. But I’ve had it a few times locally outside of doing the events.
SAM: I think because part of it is that you put these people on such a pedestal that you know a bit about them and you never think, you’re like fraud’s in comparison. Alright well I hoped that was an interesting episode, just something a bit different. I think the main takeaway is that for Emma this is something where she has multiple goals from all this sort of stuff, and it’s not that she’s doing this because she just wants to sell lots of gin, it’s because she really enjoys going to these places, she wants to get a bit more known in industry. She wants to be able to up her food and drink credentials. All this kind of stuff which could then lead to maybe a completely different career later down the line something else she’s passionate about but it’s whole building her expertise and credentials in this sort of London food and drink scene yeah as well as Sarah najin yeah which is great.
EMMA: And because I’m so into food and drink I know both locally and in London where are the places we should be stocked in.
SAM: The other final thing to say was a couple of places you went to where stuff, there’s like a three month waiting list to go for dinner. You’re able to just turn up, get a drink at a random time because it’s part of your job and you’re talking to the key people in the restaurant.
EMMA: Absolutely amazing, I thought I was in heaven. This particular restaurant I wanted to go to since the day I opened, and I just walked in and went to the bar.
SAM: And got it all for free.
EMMA: And the service was amazing! I think the takeaway from that is don’t be too intimidated. Just because you hold something really highly and you think it’s like way above you, the reality is that these bar staff really want to hear about new drinks and they get something out of replies coming in and telling them about what’s going on in the industry as well.
SAM: Another thing is that a lot of these people probably have the goal at one point of maybe going off and doing a similar thing to what we’ve done yeah.
EMMA: That’s interesting to say that because some of the bar stuff I did ask, “Have you ever thought about creating your own drinks business?” because some people were really knowledgeable about the industry to me and I was thinking well you obviously know where their gap in the market is but they’d all say they all said no for different reasons which was interesting.
SAM: When you go back they’ll have a few more questions for you, Oh Emma I’ve been thinking.
SAM: Well let’s leave it up, thank you for being my interviewee today and yeah new gin coming out will be out on the 30th pink grapefruit, in time it’s delicious.You can buy it on Amazon or through our website.
EMMA: Yeah and in all good restaurants and bars.
SAM: If they don’t sell it, they’re not good! Goodbye.